Σάββατο, 12 Μαρτίου 2011

A walk in time and wine with Maria Tzitzi

A walk in time and wine with Maria Tzitzi

Emanuela Karastoyanova

For wine, for both times in which mankind lives, for Greece, for the sea and many other things, we spoke with writer and expert vintner - Maria Tzitzi.

I find myself in the laboratory of Mary Tzitzi at noon on a weekday. Surrounded by countless flasks and glass bottles, precisely arranged on the working desks, I think of how complex the material world is... As a woman without chemical education, the too difficult to understand system, which I see before me, makes me believe Mary’s words, that perhaps everything in life is chemistry ... At least at first glance.

GRREPORTER: How did you decide to become an expert vintner?

Maria Tzitzi: When I was younger my dream was to become a biologist or more precisely - biochemist. When I graduated university, however, I lost my father and I was under great stress. I had to find a job as a chemist, as was my major. Then I decided to start working freelance. For me it was an additional bonus to get a vintner license. During those years, in order to get such a license you had to have 6 months of practice in wine production. So, while I was doing my internship I met a wonderful colleague, who unfortunately is no longer among the living – Ntinos Filippoy. With him we worked together very well. One day he told me that the lab of his colleague - Mr. Dimou, is on sale. This happened in 1985. (At that time in Greece there were very few women who had a wine lab...) I took the lab and became a vintner, although in the beginning I was not aware of what it really meant to be a vintner. Back then the laboratory was at another address and there was a lot of work. It was not what I dreamt of as a child, but life led me this way... Subsequently, I liked the work because there was a lot of chemistry involved and chemistry is what I have always loved. Everything in this world is chemistry, I very much believe in it. The fact that you are here today and we are talking, is also chemistry. If I had to start my life again from scratch now, I would choose chemistry again.

GRREPORTER: You were considered to be a revolutionist for your time...

Mary Tzitzi: No, I was not a revolutionist. Things were just different... I have participated in 19 wine competitions. The first was held in Canada in 2000, where out of the 102 tasters only 4 were women... Today, more and more women and young people participate in such competitions. Things have changed. Some of the biggest names in the wine business are men, but women the same ability to detect the flavor and some details of wine.

GRREPORTER: How did idea for the book come along?

Maria Tzitzi: The idea came along as part of the cooperation with Le Monde and Paris Kyparissioy. We wanted to cover the needs of people who are interested in wine. They are much more than they were before and the more time passes by, they become even more. We also wanted to cover the needs of our students and ordinary wine lovers. This is not a scientific style book targeting professionals, although they can also find things that are of interest to them. It was written in language accessible to all readers.

GRREPORTER: Do you think that nowadays the wine culture and the rapid rhythms of our societies could co-exist? How can we combine the ‘fast-food’ culture with the ‘wine’ culture? Do you think the art of wine will survive over time or one day harried rhythms will kill it?

Maria Tzitzi: I believe that either way the lives of people are developing in two speeds. There are things that we do very quickly in order to meet some needs and we do other things, which give food to our deeper desires. Humankind has always lived in two times. I have lived in two times all my life and I don’t think I am an exception. You can see me eat at a fast-food restaurant, eating and frantically drinking my Coke but you can also see me in a good restaurant enjoying delicious food and good wine. I think most of us need this. We are trying to balance both things. Of course, the younger a man is, quality gives way to quantity. When a man is young he eats only to cover his needs. However the more time passes by, the more you say that you do not only want cover your needs but to enjoy everything and to spend your time wise. When you're young you do not sleep at night... The more you grow, however, night life becomes luxury. I do not think that quality will be lost. It will always exist. The fact that in recent years in Greece we gained a culture of wine-drinking is very important. We started seeing things differently. In the beginning it started as a principle of imitation, but I think that little by little things are starting to become balanced and we are finding our own first steps.

GRREPORTER: Which country is Greece copying?

Maria Tzitzi: It is copying France, for example, which has a very good wine and food tradition. France is moving in crazy rhythms as well, but you can hardly see people eating in fast-food restaurants. You'll see people eating in brasserie, but not drinking Coke, even though young Frenchmen are living in crazy rhythms. Greeks have started travelling more, which enables us to see what happens outside our borders. This is the reason why we changed the way we produce wine. 20 years ago there were 5 wineries and today there are around 500, which prepare from 15 000 to 3 000 000 bottles of wine. The average consumer feels this. I do not think that quality will disappear…we will always try to find time for it. We need quality in our lives. It is a way of life.

GRREPORTER: How would you comment on today's dietary habits of Greeks?

Maria Tzitzi: Regarding children obesity in Europe we are raking as first. This says a lot about our eating habits. On the other hand, the Cretan and Mediterranean diets are coming from here... those two facts are contradicting each other. I believe at the moment we trying to find some balance. Years ago, we were more balanced. People spent more time sitting in their houses, cooking, there was also mom's kitchen. I am not sure whether this happens today... It cannot happen for obvious reasons, you understand what I mean. However, we have a gifted land, because we have olive oil, which is very important for our kitchen. We also have a sea that we can use for all of its blessings. Wine enters into this whole story.

However, according to statistics we drink less wine than 20 years ago (although wine we produce today has better quality).

GRREPORTER: What is the reason for this?

Maria Tzitzi: The reasons are many. Wine is quite an expensive product. Alcohol tests on the streets play an important role as well. It is not pleasant to drink two glasses of wine, for which you can be fined €700 and lose your driving license for two or three months. However, this happens all over Europe – there is a major problem with drinking when people go out. Another reason is the lack of time - it is clear that at noon you will eat something quickly. Years back it was easier for families to gather around the table for lunch and to drink some wine. We definitely drink less than 20 years ago... In return, we are number one in Europe for drinking whiskey.

GRREPORTER: Isn’t this a bit odd?

Maria Tzitzi: It’s a question of advertising. Whiskey is not even a Greek product, but it is advertised very well. This is the drink our youth drinks today…something that does not happen with wine. And if you ask them why they drink it, they will tell you that with a glass of whiskey they get drunk, but to get drunk with wine they need at least 4, 5 glasses. No one will go to the bar and order wine...

GRREPORTER: And yet we noticed that compared to other nations, Greeks do not get drunk.

Maria Tzitzi: Look, this is a question of climate as well. We live in a country that does not need so much alcohol. Here there is sun most days throughout the year. We do not need alcohol to get warmer and the sun helps improve our mood and makes us smile more. This is something that alcohol gives you on a more primary level. It helps you be happier. The place helps us have alcohol awareness - how much can you drink in this heat...

GRREPORTER: What dangers does alcohol hold?

Maria Tzitzi: Look, wine is an alcoholic product. Despite our great efforts for alcohol to be perceived by people as food, which just contains alcohol, the alcohol in it still exists... And alcohol alone holds great risks. Alcoholism is a serious problem. Of course, alcohol consumption should always be done in moderation. Wine, however, is not to be blamed for alcoholism. Reasons for alcoholism are many and they differ. Spirit drinks have greater blame for alcoholism - those which are around 40 degrees. Wine and beer are not the real dangers.

GRREPORTER: Which Greek wines mark success abroad?

Maria Tzitzi: Greece is known abroad with its sweet wines. For example, Samos wines are known throughout France. Frenchmen are trying to achieve diversity in Muscat tastes since 1950. An interesting fact is also that foreigners like (whether we like it or not) Retsina, while we have already erased this wine from our vocabulary. For better or worse this situation continues to this day. For many years foreigners believed that Greeks are people of Ouzo, Retsina and octopus... Today’s reality is that if we go to a supermarket will not see more than two bottles of Retsina on the shelves. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find that product in restaurants as well. Foreigners, however, continue to connect us with Retsina. A famous wine area for foreigners is Nemea. They are acquainted with the wines from this region, because they can easily pronounce the name. It is not difficult to pronounce the name "Nemea,” while the name "Agiorgitiko" (the Grappe of Nemea) ties their tongues... Though every company decides exactly what kind of wines it will export. In the US I happened to find wines that I cannot find in Greece. There are small wineries that only export wine, respectively, there is no need for that wine to be advertised in Greece, because people will not be able to buy it. We have started exporting, but overall, our exports are not so large. I believe they do not exceed 10%. We are not a country which relies on wine exports. In general, we are self-sufficient—in other words, whatever we produce, we drink it all. However, it is an interesting fact that 25-35% of the wines we present each year at competitions, are rewarded. Now a good and very famous wine came to my mind - Santorini. Foreigners first found out about the island, and then about wine.

GRREPORTER: This wine certainly does not need advertising.

Maria Tzitzi: Yes, of course.

GRREPORTER: Can you tell me a name of a Bulgarian wine that impressed you?

Maria Tzitzi: I cannot recall a specific name of a Bulgarian wine but I remember some red wines, from the Grappe Cabernet Sauvignon, which were incredible. They had very good and specific taste. Also, I know that some of my customers buy wine barrels from Bulgaria, which give them good results.

GRREPORTER: What are your plans for the future and what do you wish for?

Maria Tzitzi: It may sound a little strange... Except for good health, I wish my books will be successful. .. I have two written, but unreleased books. I like writing. This is something I wanted to do since I was a child. When a person writes, he is alone and is looking for things within his inner world. Many things can be expressed in the best possible way on paper. Then you have a good relationship with yourself. I wish I could do this thing for many years...

GRREPORTER: We wish it to you with all our hearts!

Maria Tzitzi: Thank you.

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